Thursday, 13 December 2007

Year End Thoughts ...

The year draws to a close and it is time for the yearly retrospective again. Time really does pass quickly:


So how did I do? From the 2006 year end retrospective, I had the following two goals:

  • Make myself (almost) redundant
  • Teach, not do

The first part is pretty much complete and in some ways through no real effort on my part. What happened in 2007 was that I stood aside and let my team leaders take on more and more responsibility. They all rose to the challenge and the team functions pretty well without me. These days, my role is mostly HR management with a small bit of project management on the side. The PM work isn't even because it is really necessary, but more because it is much faster for me to do it due to language and experience issues. My team leaders are a bit overworked at times so I jump in here and there to balance the load.

The second part turned out to be quite a bit different from what I expected. Rather than having long lectures and training sessions on how to do the work, it turned out to be a lot more effective to just let people do the work and give feedback where necessary. My team members are good enough that, for the most part, you can just throw them in and yell, "have fun swimming!" Now and then, feedback from gathered from peers or my personal experiences helped several people to improve what they were doing even better. However, it would be quite laughable to claim that I really taught them anything. For the most part, they figured out how to do things themselves and often came up with new ways that were far superior.

So in conclusion, both goals were achieved but in ways quite different from what I envisioned. I suppose this is one of the benefits of working with really good people :)


The following are some of my major lessons for 2007. All these topics will probably be covered in more detail in later blogs:

  • Timely feedback
  • Groups also grow and mature
  • Really learning from your team mates

If 2007 is anything to go by, the greatest value a manager in Exoweb provides is in giving timely feedback - both positive and negative. As mentioned earlier, I found that I did not really have to teach much. However, I did have to tell people how far along they were towards achieving the goals set for them. Without clear feedback, people are either demoralized by the uncertainty of their performance or wrongly assume they are doing well/badly. In retrospect, some of the people that did not work out in 2004-2006 may well have done a lot better given the correct feedback and corrective actions early. Things have gone a lot smoother in 2007 as the management team as a whole has gotten better at this.

Another realization was that it is not just people that grow and mature. Groups somehow do too. They take a life and culture of their own, often picking up best practices that make the group far superior than merely adding the individual members together. One clear example was when we threw a group of new people into a project. Although everyone individually was quite competent, they were all new and unfamiliar with best practices the rest of Exoweb has gained through bitter experience. As a result, the team repeated all the same mistakes and was on the verge of turning dysfunctional. Ultimately we disbanded the project and team, merged everyone into mature teams and things work out much better after that.

2007 was also the year I learned the most from my teammates. Partly because they were getting comfortable and confident in their teams/roles, partly because there was much more communication this year. The many subtleties of working with people, what works, what doesn't - all these I have learned from talking to my colleagues. Some give me feedback on what they have seen me do, giving me a chance to tweak methods better. Others try new things that have obviously good results. These I adapt into my own daily routine. Overall, 2007 was the year I learned the most about managing and working with people - even more than my days in evil MBA school.

There of course is a lot more I have learned over the course of the year. In many ways, working in Exoweb is like being in school - you are always learning new things every day. May this always continue.


Strangely enough, I cannot think of anything that I would make as a new year's resolution. Sure, I can see many areas that need improvement/fixing, but these are things that will naturally fix themselves over the course of time. Maybe I'm getting complacent, but I honestly think that Exoweb has built itself a self-sustaining culture that will continuously improve itself as time goes on.

If anything, my resolution for 2008 is to ensure that 2008 is even better than 2007. 2007 was a really good year, but one should always try to strive for more. I would like to make things even better next year, from all aspects. What specifically, we'll figure it out as we go. However, Exoweb in 2008 should be an even greater place to work in than the years before ...

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